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A Fifteenth-Century Dialogue on Literary Taste: Angelo Decembrio's Account of Playwright Ugolino Pisani at the Court of Leonello d'Este

  • Jon Pearson Perry (a1)

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A short dialogue in Angelo Decembrio's De politia litteraria (1462) describes the reception accorded by Leonello d'Este and his courtly literary circle to Ugolino Pisani, writer, comedian, and wellknown entertainer in the 1430s and ‘40s. The dialogue is a unique and valuable resource. It is perhaps the earliest document of its kind to disclose so vividly how an eager dramatist of the time hoped his work would find favor with a discriminating and influential audience, and it dramatizes an encounter that we know actually took place between the writer and an audience whose patronage he sought, showing the audience's ideas and tastes on the spot and in motion, so to speak.

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1 I thank Dr. Brina Caplan and Professor Donald Wilcox, whose criticism of this essay in its early stages helped me to improve it in every way. I am greatly indebted to Professors Paul Oskar Kristeller and Francis Newton for their generous and expert help with the Latin text and translation. The commentary follows. Translation and text are, respectively, in Appendix A and B.

2 Sabbadini, Remigio, “Tre Autografi di Angelo Decembrio,” Classici e umanisti da codici Ambrosiani, Fontes Ambrosiani, #2 (Florence, 1933), pp. 94103 .

3 Cod. Ambros. Z 184 sup., fol. 49v. See Sabbadini, ibid,, pp. 100ff.

4 Angelo Decembrio, De politia litteraria V, 57, in cod. Vat. lat. 1794, fol. 147. This manuscript version cited henceforth; see Appendix B.

5 See Guardia, Anita della, La Politia litteraria di Angelo Decembrio e l'umanesimo a Ferrara nellaprima metà delsecolo XV(Modena, 1910), pp. 3536.

6 See Gundersheimer, Werner L., Ferrara: The Style of a Renaissance Despotism (Princeton, 1973), pp. 104ff.

7 Sabbadini gives a lively description of the circle's wide range of intellectual and artistic interests in two famous works on Verona, Guarino da, La scuola e gli studi di Guarino Guarini Veronese (Catania, 1896), pp. 153-55, and Vita di Guarino Veronese (Genoa, 1891), pp. 142ff., both reproduced in Guariniana, ed. Mario Sancipriano (Turin, 1964). Also see Baxandall, Michael, “A Dialogue on Art from the Court of Leonello d'Este, Angelo Decembrio's De Politia Litteraria Pars LXVIII,” in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 26 (1963), 304-26.

8 Tito Strozzi is first recorded in Florentine census rolls in the summer of 1427, “dani tre,” at the age of three. See Reichenbach, Giulio, “Date di nascita di umanisti, I. Tito Vespasiano Strozzi,” in Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, 57 (1911), 326 . Strozzi came under Guarino's tutelage in 1430, at the age of six, when Guarino moved his family permanently from Verona to Ferrara and accepted the Strozzi family's invitation to lodge in their household. This pedagogical as well as living arrangement lasted through 1436, about a year prior to Pisani's arrival in the city. See Sabbadini, Vita di Guarino Veronese, p. 93.

9 De politia litteraria I, 1, fols. 5v-7: Adherebant ei continue quam primum a cubili vel mensa consurgeret, cum ex equestri vel sacro ordine delecti viri, turn ex reliquis Ferrariensis urbis suae civibus, plerique genere nobiliores, alii rei publicae muneribus intend, pars et litterarum studiosi. In quibus Guarinus Veronensis orator Celebris, Ugucio Contrarius insigni gravitate et magnarum rerum administratione consilioque venerabilis, Feltrinus Boiardus, Albertus Constabilis et generis nobilitate et equestri ordine praestantes, iidem in memoranda historia promptissimi, Ioannes Gualengus eloquendi aedificandique solertissimus. Ii natu grandiores et seniores pariter Nicolai Marchionis ipsius Leonelli patris familiaritate coniuncti. Ex iunioribus autem alter Albertus Carpus corporis proceritate nee minori facundia conspicuus, Estensium familiae affinitate clarus. Carolus Nuvolonus eximia humanitate atque antiquitatis amore facillimus. Turn Nicolaus Titusque germani egregiae Strocciarum domus, quorum alter Nicolaus nuper equestri ordine statutus [sic] est, eruditissimi ingenii. Inter quos Thomas Reatinus, vir alioquin solutae metricaeque orationis doctissimus, sed ob artis memorativae gratiam ab eodem Leonello equestri ordine dignitate donatus.

10 See Boralevi, Bice, “Di alcuni scritti inediti di Tommaso Morroni da Rieti,” Bollettino delta Regia Deputazione di storia patria per l'Umbria, 17(1911), 535614 . Sabbadini neatly establishes Reatino's presence in Ferrara several months prior to July, 1437, when Poggio Bracciolini wrote to Guarino from Bologna, deploring the news that Reatinus, whom he despised “ut monstrum informe horrendum omnibus notum,” had arrived in Ferrara and been knighted by Leonello. See Sabbadini's edition of the Epistolario di Guarino Veronese, R. Deputazione di storia veneta, 3: Miscellanea di storia veneta, 3 vols. [ = VIII, XI, XIV] (Venice, 1915-1919), #708 in II ( = XI), 313; and also his brief sketch of Reatinus in III (= XIV), 344.

11 De politia litteraria V, 2, fol. 8: Nos sane etsi ab eorum institutis priscorumque praeceptionibus non dissentimus, multo tamen super insinuationum illarum argumenta usu cognovisse opus est, ut cum illi theorice, nos pratice quodammodo disputemus. Ita ergo politiam hanc litterariam diffiniemus, non a civilitate seu rei publicae graecorum appellatione, ut initio diximus, quam et ipsi eadem terminatione politiam vocant, neve a forensi vel urbana conversatione, quam a verbis polizo polescove denominant, verum et a polio verbi nostri significatione, unde ipsa politia vel expolitio, et enim Virgilius de Vulcanis armis dixit, iam parte polita, quam et ipsam elegantiam elegantiaeque culturam intelligi volumus. The English translation of this passage in Werner L. Gundersheimer's Ferrara: Style of a Renaissance Despotism, pp. 107-108, the only other translation of which I am aware, is based on printed witnesses. The autograph manuscript text given above specifically excludes “urbane conversation” as a synonym for politia litteraria.

12 Cod. Ambros. F 141 sup. See Affò, Ireneo, “Ugolino Pisani,” in Memorie degli scrittori e letterati Parmigiani, II (Parma, 1789), 169-74, and also Sabbadini, , “Ugolino Pisani,“ in Classici e umanisti da codici Ambrosiani, pp. 113-19.

13 Affò, p. 169.

14 Sabbadini, “Ugolino Pisani,” p. 114 n. 1, transcribes the gloss in a copy of the play from cod. Mon. lat. 424, fol. 354): “Magistri Zanini de saturnalibus [?] coqui Hugolini Pisani repetitio in scolis publicis Papiae a. 1435” Sabbadini's own doubtful reading “saturnalibus” must be emended to “martulibus“; see below n. 19. Decembrio seems to have invented the clever cognomen De coquinaria confabulatione, “A Culinary Confabulation.” It occurs nowhere else. Pisani referred to the play as “Repetitio magistri Gianini cochi” in the margin of his copy of the works of Aristotle (Sabbadini, “Ugolino Pisani,” p. 119). Other witnesses, such as cod. Paris, lat. 7853, bear the title “Repetitio egregii Zanini coqui magistrandi.“

15 Affò, p. 174: Cantilenas item plurimas magna cum arte musicorum edidit adolescens, morales, et libero animo dignas, Petrarcham ilium redolentes, quas equidem operae praetium est audire et legere.

16 Sabbadini, “Ugolino Pisani,” pp. 117-18: Sicut Rubinetus et multi quos cognosco, qui non utuntur nee delectantur cantu propter ipsam virtutem sed propter voluptates consequendas ex ipso cantu vel mulierum vel commessationum, ut faciunt quottidie hue illuc discumbendo; et cantorum et mimorum nomen sunt sortiti et tamen artem nullam musicae sciunt, sed quadam pratica satis grossa concinunt ut ceci. Sed qui utuntur cantu propter virtutem ipsam et ea quae inferius dicet philosophus, tales sunt maxime commendandi et his est persuadendum ut musicam discant et alios ortentur.

17 Affò, p. 170: Quocumque ad suggestas [suffertas?] studiorum urbes proficiscitur, ita eius celebratur adventus, ut famam ingenii, quam habet maximam, ipsiusque expectationem praesentia superet.

18 N. H. Watt's translation of Pro Archia poeta iii, 4: “Post in ceteris Asjae partibus cunctaeque Graeciae sic eius adventus celebrabantur, ut famam ingenii exspectatio hominis, exspectationem ipsius adventus admiratioque superaret.” The Speeches of Cicero (Loeb Classical Library, 1965), p. 11.

19 “Scire enim ego minime desidero sed sapere videri et hoc vobis facile persuaderi posse opinor propterea quod cum ego multum mihi velut fatuus arrogem, vos stultissimos fore arbitror et plane credere quicquid vanum aut puerile dixero,” p. 293 in the recent edition of Pisani's play “Repetitio Zanini de martulibus coqui Hugolini de Piscanis [sic] de Parma,” in Teatrogoliardico dell'Umanesimo, ed. by Vito Pandolfi and Erminia Artese (Milan, 1965), pp. 293-310. This edition gives facing Italian translations of the other plays in the anthology, but not Pisani's, indicating perhaps ajudgment of the play similar to mine.

20 Ibid.,p. 296.

21 The only evidence with which to reckon Ugolino Pisani's age are passing references in the eulogy and De politia litteraria. The eulogist, in a garbled passage, says of him in 1437, “Nam qui vitam suam media vix viventi [sic] tempora certantem rebus hisce optimis instituit, omnibus in posterum felicibus auspiciis ad regendas, ac amplificandas res maximas divino quodam datus numine judicatur” (Affò, p. 171), or about 30 according to the conventional formula. Decembrio describes Pisani as “vix quadragenarius” (Appendix B, lines 10-11) in section 60, which was part of the early, threebook version of De politia litteraria completed by 1447.

It is known that Pisani soldiered for Alfonso of Naples from 1439 to 1440, that he was in Basel in 1441, probably on a diplomatic mission for Alfonso, and that he returned to Italy in the summer of 1443, determined to get back into the good graces of Pope Eugenius IV, whom Alfonso had opposed. In early 1445, Pisani returned to Naples, where a letter of Poggio Bracciolini's, still extant, shows that he was heartily welcomed. After this letter, no trace of Pisani remains. See Sabbadini, “Ugolino Pisani,” pp. 114-15.

22 See Gabotto, Ferdinando, “Tommaso Capellari da Rieti, letterato del secolo XV,” Archivio storico per le Marche e per l'Umbria, 4 (1888), 628-62; and Segarizzi, A., “Per Tommaso Morroni,” Rassegna bibliografica della letteratura italiana, 6 (1898), 325-27.

23 The reference to Seneca is presumably Ad Lucilium epistulae morales 1, ii, but see Appendix B, line 193-94, historical collation of variants.

24 See Zaccaria, Vittorio, “Pier Candido Decembrio, Michele Pizolpasso, ed Ugolino Pisani,” Atti dell’ Istituto Veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, 133 (1974-1975), 187207 .

25 For the full text of Alberti's commentary and the play, see Opere volgari di Leon Battist’ Alberti, I, ed. Anicio Bonucci (Florence, 1843), 120-66. Here p. 123-24: Itaque nostra, ut docui, fabuia materiam habeat non inelegantem, neque quam ab adulescenti non maiori annis XX editam quispiam doctus minime invidus despiciat. Turn et ea eloquentia est, quam in hunc usque diem docti latinis litteris omnes approbarint, atque usque adeo esse antiqui alicuius scriptoris existimarint, ut fuerit nemo, qui non hanc ipsam summa cum admiratione perlegerit, multi memoriae mandarint, non pauci in ea saepius exscribenda plurimum operae consumpserint… . Ex quo factum est ut ad meas mendas scribendi [sic] istius festinatione multa vitia adiicerentur. Fecit tamen eius, me invito, copiam vulgo [sic], apud quem, librariorum imperitia nimirum, omnino inconcinna reddita est… . Itaque puerilis et inelaborata corruptaque fabula, dum meam esse ignorarent, tanto fuit in praetio habita ut nemo satis comicis delectari putaretur, cui Philodoxeos parum esset familiaris. Quam ego fabulam, cum eo placere, et passim a studiosis expeti quod vetusta putaretur, intelligerem, rogantibus unde illam congessissimus, per commentum persuasimus ex vetustissimo illam esse Codice excerptam. Facile omnes absentiri. Nam et comicum dicendi genus et priscum quidpiam redolebat, neque difficile creditu erat adulescentem Pontificiis scriptis occupatum me ob omni eloquentiae laude abhorrere.

26 See for example Mancini, Girolamo, Vita di Leon Battist’ Alberti (Florence, 1911), rpt. 1971, pp. 139 and 171-79.

27 Codices Est. lat. 52 and 274. See Kristeller, Paul Oskar, Iter Italicum, I (Leiden and London, 1963), 368 and 370. Mancini (p. 139 n. 4) confirms that the full length version described by Kristeller (I, 368) is the same exemplar on which Bonucci based his edition of the play.

28 Cod. Est. lat. 339. See Kristeller, I, 370.

page 631 note 1 Presumably the sight of wormwood growing in a garden might give offense because the plant was regarded as a weed. And though the culinary allusion may seem peculiar to a modern reader accustomed to thinking of wormwood as a medicinal herb, a one-time ingredient in liqueur or in certain vermouths, it is known to have been used in sauces and other cookery in this period. See Lewis Sturtevant, E., Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants, ed. U. P. Hendrick, II, part II (Albany, N.Y., 1919), 66 .

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